Normally, getting the likes of the ACLU, the Koch brothers, Chuck Schumer, John McCain, high-tech moguls, and some evangelical groups to agree on anything might seem like Mission Impossible.
But President Trump’s hastily imposed orders – temporarily suspending refugee resettlement and issuing 90-day travel bans for residents of seven Middle Eastern and African countries – have spawned a diverse opposition and a strikingly unified outcry of “This is not who we are.”
And while the wave of protests around the nation will probably not cause the president to back down, some critics say the uproar sends an important message around the world that America won’t close its doors quietly – especially to people based on their religion.
Fighting back tears, Senate minority leader Schumer (D) of New York called the order issued by Mr. Trump Friday “mean-spirited and un-American” and vowed to fight for its cancellation.
Some Republicans were equally critical.
“This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country,” Senators McCain (R) of Arizona and Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said in a joint statement Sunday. “That is why we fear this [order] may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security,” the two hawkish Republicans added.
Perhaps most strikingly, the influential Koch brothers network, which has long backed conservative causes and candidates, expressed a dim view of the travel and refugee bans – with Charles Koch placing the executive order in the context of his rising concerns about authoritarian threats to American freedom.
“We have a tremendous danger because we can go the authoritarian route … or we can move toward a free and open society,” Mr. Koch said at a weekend conference in California of donors.
The president of his foundation was more direct: “The travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive.”
With airports clogged with protesters, the attorneys general of 16 states condemning the orders, and even some Trump backers expressing dismay at the travel ban’s slap-dash construction, the president and his administration were clearly feeling the heat.
Trump insisted on Twitter Monday that the orders were being implemented smoothly, and senior administration officials speaking with journalists Sunday evening defended the action as a boon to national security.
“It really is a massive success story in terms of implementation on every single level,” said one of two senior administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
The officials pushed back against the widely voiced perception that the orders were amateurish in their wording and hastily issued, insisting they had been developed since early in the transition and reviewed by numerous agencies and judicial experts.
In particular, one official said the order affecting people from seven Muslim-majority countries “isn’t willy-nilly,” and that it and the order suspending refugee resettlement for four months were run by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Trump has yet to nominate someone to run the OLC, so presumably the orders were reviewed by interim management.
Indeed, much of Trump’s legal and national security team has yet to be put in place – leading to the perception among some legal experts that such crucial and far-reaching actions failed to benefit from senior-level input and review.
Some critics speculated that the hasty issuance of the orders suggested the president may have wanted to get them on the books before his full cabinet is in place and while his inner circle of advisers have freer rein.
In that context, some analysts said it was striking that Trump also signed an order Friday refashioning the makeup of the National Security Council to make domestic political adviser Steve Bannon a regular member of the council. Mr. Bannon, who did not require Senate confirmation for his role as presidential adviser, is an architect of Trump’s “America First” policy approach, including the Trump campaign’s signature vows to build a wall on the Mexican border and to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Trump insisted Monday that his order has nothing to do with a Muslim ban, noting that more than 40 other Muslim-majority countries are unaffected by the travel ban.
But that justification misses the point that all Muslims, and not just those in the seven countries affected, are likely to hear the partial ban as targeting all Muslims, some critics say. Moreover, they say that perception will have the opposite effect from the enhancement of national security that the order seeks.
“We are broadcasting the message of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda for them, which is that we are against Muslims and they are the only true defenders of the faith,” says Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Iraq under President George W. Bush.
Terrorists trying to enter US
Backers of the order, like James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, say the measures targeting countries where Islamist terrorist organizations are active are necessary because “foreign fighters” from those groups are known to be seeking to enter Western countries including the United States to carry out terrorist attacks.
Mr. Carafano, a foreign-policy analyst who was part of the Trump transition team, says the critique that actions like Trump’s orders will turn Muslims toward ISIS and other Islamist extremist groups is not backed by evidence.
Ambassador Crocker says his experience in many Muslim countries has convinced him otherwise. But he says it’s the long-term effect of America appearing to turn against its principles that bothers him most.
In particular, he calls it “shameful” that the ban on entry by citizens of Iraq is affecting Iraqis who worked with the US military and embassy as interpreters and security providers.
“People who risked their lives for us because they believed in the values we represent are now being told we don’t honor that and we don’t care if your lives are now at risk,” Crocker says.
Senator McCain made a similar point in his statement, noting that “At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat” the Islamic State in Iraq. “But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona” to train to “fight our common enemies.”
Crocker says he doubts that the protests mounting around the country and the widespread objections from prominent voices like his will convince Trump to change or drop his orders. But he says the fierce opposition nonetheless plays a critical role in that it tells people around the world – and in particular Muslims – that the US is not turning against them.
“My guess is that it’s not going to make any difference at all” to the administration and to implementation of the orders, Crocker says. “But at least people around the world will see there are many, many organizations and people in this country who are strongly opposed to this direction,” he adds, “and are fighting to stop it.”